Zack Armen Launched Storica Wines in 2017 with the goal of promoting Armenian culture in a way that resonates in the hearts and minds of US consumers through wine. As an Armenian-American businessman, Armen’s roots run deep in his home country. He wants to help the world recognize Armenia for the beautiful place it is and the culture it represents.
Armenia’s “terroir,” which in wine lingo refers to the combination of climate, soil, and elevation, lends to flavor and aroma profiles that are pleasant, top notch, and reminiscent of other fine wines from around the world. Armen is ushering in an exciting new category in the wine world, through a set of brands representing the finest quality and _expression_ of Armenia’s rich heritage and renaissance in winemaking. With each bottle sold, Armen aims to share Armenia’s story as a burgeoning authority in wine and its history as the birthplace of wine with consumers in the United States. Storica wines express indigenous grapes grown 6,000 years ago, and they mirror the country’s fullness of life, and resiliency.
Armen is charging his company forward as he breaks down barriers and disrupts the conventional wine industry. The road to Storica’s success is paved with new challenges, and the burgeoning company had to address different angles in their sales tactics, marketing, and brand building campaigns. Solidifying a brand in a competitive space is no easy task. In this article, Armen discusses what it takes to build a new category of wine in the US, what makes Armenian wines so good, and how he plans to disrupt the wine industry in 2021.
What is your vision for Storica wines?
We’re focusing on building a new category of Armenian wine in the United States. In this effort there is a really interesting tension between taking a disruptive, digital-centric approach like many other products and services do today, yet needing to participate in a heavily regulated, multi-tier trade system. We try to be highly respectful of working within the bounds of and with the parlance of the industry value chain, but at the same time realize that there is some out of the box thinking and doing we have to do to be successful in gaining US consumers’ attention. We are learning as we go and finding that ultimately having a great story and a high-quality product will win the day.
Our big overarching goal is to bring these beautiful ancient wines, now being produced with a very high degree of quality and sophistication, to the US in such a way that speaks to and recognizes that history in ancient tradition but also has a modern methodology in which we’re engaging with consumers.
What makes Armenian wines so good?
The quality of Armenian wine is a function of a few key factors. The first is the terroir: the combination of climate, soil type, and elevation. Armenia gets 300 days of sunlight per year, which is significantly more than most countries in Europe. This high concentration of sunlight, when combined with high elevation vineyards, causes an intensity of climate that stresses the grape vines. Moreover, at high elevations there are more rapid changes in temperature, precipitation, and wind. When you combine all these factors, this delivers a highly complex flavor and aroma profile that gives Armenian wines their unique attributes. Armenia’s vineyards are mostly volcanic soil, which are best suited for good drainage and water retention. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Armenia’s leading grapes themselves are old, indigenous varieties which are high quality from a viticulture perspective and have an optimal combination of similarity to more commonly found quality grapes, such as Pinot Noir for the Areni red grape and Chenin Blanc for the Voskehat white grape.
With all of these raw agronomic or viticulture positive attributes, the winemaking, or everything that happens after the grapes are harvested, is also key to the quality of the wines. Armenia is now blessed with several top notch and world-renowned winemakers, who have built large scale winemaking infrastructure across the country’s multiple winemaking regions. We are fortunate to work with one of the pioneers of the Armenian winemaking movement, Vahe Keushguerian, who has decades of winemaking experience in the US, Italy, and France. We will begin to work with additional winemakers later this year who have also had significant experience in winemaking and are producing globally recognized wines today.
The future is bright for continued top quality wines coming out of Armenia at greater and greater scale, and we hope to work with many of these winemakers as we grow Storica’s business in the US.
How is Storica achieving its goals as becoming a national brand ambassador?
We’ve focused on building a multi-faceted digital presence that tells the story of Armenian wine in a compelling, celebratory way. Overall, what we’re seeking to do is to be the category creator and leader of Armenian wine in the United States. The way in which we’re doing that is we’re working with the best wineries in Armenia and bringing high-quality wines to the US in such a way that is nationally scalable, including people and processes across marketing, sales, operations, finance and logistics. To our knowledge, there are no other companies building such a scaled, multi-winery effort in the US in support of the Armenian wine category. Individual wineries are selling their wines in the US in certain states, but our understanding is these are all on a single-brand or single-winery basis.
What type of consumers are you targeting?
We want to have a portfolio of wines that are attractive to a wide variety of American consumer profiles, from the casual wine drinker to the master somms of the world. We also want to ensure our portfolio spans various price points, and that each of our products have a strong price to quality ratio. Most of the wines in our portfolio today are in the $20-30 per bottle range, but we will have wine that’s priced lower and higher in the future. Ultimately it is that breadth of consumer that we’re really going after, since we see a home for Armenian wine in virtually every wine use case given how many wonderful and diverse wines there are from Armenia.
What are your marketing strategies?
Storica has a strong digital marketing strategy focused on targeting three main consumer archetypes; Armenian communities, oenophiles and wine writers, and curious millennials. Armenia and the history of this emerging wine region is a topic that many audiences are excited to learn about and be among the first to share within their communities. Through social media, PR, digital advertising, virtual events, brand and influencer partnerships, Storica has the unique opportunity to educate consumers about Armenian wine. We are proud to see strong interest and positive reception from the likes of Karen MacNeil, Forbes, Haute Living, Armenian communities, wine clubs and more as a result.
What gave you the idea to start a wine company?
I grew up in the world of finance and then most recently in life sciences and biotech. My day job is business development for a biotech company. The inspiration behind Storica came out of one of my trips to Armenia in 2017, when I noticed that the wine was getting better very quickly. I started asking people why, and was introduced to Vahe and Aimee Keushguerian, two winemakers who are very active in this renaissance of Armenian wine, and they filled me in on what was going on. From their perspective, penetrating the US market was going to be key to the long-term success or failure of Armenian wine as a global wine region. I saw that as an opportunity to impact my homeland in a way that is multigenerational and hugely scalable when you think about the benefit of having a product like wine being a contributor to tourism, GDP growth, and job creation. I also saw it as a great opportunity to build a US-based business that had significant upside, and am humbled every day to see this come to fruition, and by the progress we’ve made as a company and the support we’ve received from our investors, partners, and consumers.
What is your strategy for marketing to restaurants and stores?
For new wine & spirits brands it’s critical to have a presence in stores and restaurants, as opposed to simply selling online like many other products and services do. Successful wines have followed the playbook of getting top tier restaurant placements early on and to then build their brand off of that cache and credibility – because of Covid, we’ve not been able to start there of course, but as re-openings increase, we are highly focused on the restaurant channel. Growing up as a company during Covid has had its pluses and minuses, obviously lack of restaurant business being a minus. However, starting with a heavy focus on digital, on driving foot traffic into stores, and investing in beautiful content creation and social media engagement, will hopefully begin to pay dividends and allow us to seize the current opportunity to quickly ramp our on-premises sales. A goal for us is to get as many of our wines listed BTG (“by-the-glass”) on menus, because that is where you see the best velocity of sales movement and often see consumers more willing to try new brands from less common regions. This is a big priority for us over the coming weeks and months, alongside securing distribution partnerships with top tier distributors who share in our passion for this new wine category and see its potential the way we do at Storica.